1. Sports

Florida Gators enter NCAA tournament as top seed

Published Mar. 17, 2014


After a 26-game win streak, including a sweep of the SEC regular season and tournament, Florida was selected as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

It is the second time the Gators have been the No. 1 overall seed. In 2007, they won their second straight title.

Florida (South) is joined by Virginia (East), Arizona (West) and Wichita State (Midwest) as No. 1 seeds. The Gators are the only team from the state in. Florida State was among several bubble teams that were omitted. (The Seminoles, however, will play in the NIT.)

The Gators (32-2) will begin play in the second game (about 4:10) Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando against the winner of Tuesday's first-round game between Mount St. Mary's and Albany.

"Hopefully, we can get six more (wins)," Florida senior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "Hopefully."

As usual, Selection Sunday was not without controversy.

"This was just a very difficult year because of the parity in college basketball," selection committee chairman Ron Wellman said.

The seeding of defending national champion Louisville, No. 4 in the Midwest, generated the most controversy. And questions surrounded awarding Virginia the No. 1 seed in the East.

Wellman said winning the ACC regular-season and conference titles was a major factor in Virginia's decision. Louisville, he said, was a tough call.

"They passed everybody's eye test," Wellman said of the Cardinals, who shared the American Athletic Conference regular-season title and won its tournament. "Right now, they are playing as well as anybody in the country. But if you look at the other No. 4 seeds, all of them are very good teams and all of them are playing very well.

"If you look at (just) the last four weeks, it might be a different story. We need to evaluate the entire season, not just the past four weeks."

Despite being the No. 1 overall seed, the Gators find themselves in a region that includes: No. 2 seed Kansas (which finished first in the Big 12 in the regular season), No. 3 Syracuse (second in the ACC), No. 4 UCLA (second in the Pac-12 and its tournament champion), No. 8 Colorado (fifth in the Pac-12) and No. 9 Pittsburgh (fifth in the ACC).

"That's the toughest bracket," ESPN analyst Jay Williams said.

Florida was still cutting down the nets following its dramatic 61-60 win over Kentucky in the SEC final when it learned of its NCAA selection. It downplayed the significance of being the No. 1 overall seed.

"I think we have the kind of confidence that we can line up against anyone," senior center Patric Young said. "Now it's just onto the next game. Whoever we play, we'll get ready for them and come in with the same focus that we have had. I think this year, the playing field is really open and it's not necessarily a No. 1 seed that could win it. I think anybody in the country could come out and win it. I feel like we're in the right place right now."

Two of the past four No. 1 overall seeds won the title, but ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said this year is wide open.

"There's no clear-cut team that you simply say automatically is going to be really a heavy, heavy favorite," said Vitale, who picked the Gators to reach the Final Four. "The bottom line is you've got to execute. I think three factors are really big. You better be able to defend as a team. You better have somebody that can make some 3s when your back's against the wall to get some momentum. And you better be able to close games out by making free throws."

Among the omissions in the tournament was SMU (23-9), which finished third in the American (but lost in the quarterfinals) and had been projected by most analysts to get in.

Arkansas (21-11) also was a bubble team left out.

The Razorbacks were considered by most analysts to be in the tournament entering the final week of the regular season. But they lost to Alabama (13-19) in its finale then South Carolina (14-20) in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.

As for the Gators, several analysts expect them to be among the final teams playing.

"The thing I love about them … is their versatility offensively and defensively," ESPN's Seth Greenberg said. "Defensively, they can defend you man. They can play 1-3-1. They can play 2-3. They can press you and turn you over. Offensively, they are one of the few teams in the country that can attack you in halfcourt and also can attack you in transition.

"There's no smoke and mirrors when it comes to the Gators. Who they are is what they are. They are really kind of an old-school, blue-collar team. To me, their one wart is can they make enough shots? Teams that have zoned them, at times, have bothered them. So I think that's the challenge."

Antonya English can be reached at

Monday, March 17, 2014 , Section C | 


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